WHEN Alfie Boe was entertaining colleagues with his crooning at the TVR factory he worked at as a youth he must have dreamed about having enough dough to buy one of the fancy motors.
Now the singing star, who entertains Sheffield City Hall on Wednesday, has a few bob he could fufil that aspiration.
“No, they shut down,” he says, a hint of sadness to his Lancashire lilt. “They were bought out. Then the factory closed down and didn’t start up again. A lot of my friends have left and are doing other things now.”
Although Boe, now in his mid 30s, had other jobs before turning his voice into a living, he clearly values those days polishing sports cars in Blackpool, not least for the singing practice in front of an, albeit captive, audience.
“They used to entertain me as well with their abilties. There were some good comedians and we all had a laugh. I used to sing a few songs and we’d go to the pub, have a few beers and sing again. Nobody took it seriously.”
Certainly it was a world away from the sold-out tour that sends the tenor our way – those now celebrated tonsils backed by a 30-piece band as he promotes Alfie, his latest album of romantic classics and musical favourites.
Then Alfie’s progression into showbusiness was helped by his normal background and finding his own way.
“I think so. I have a lot of friends who said they were forced to take piano lessons when they were young and now hate playing.
“Singing can be like that. My parents just encouraged me to do what I wanted to do and if singing was a good hobby and I enjoyed it they wouldn’t force me to do it.
“I’m not saying the minute I was born I was destined to be a singer or that I’ve lived, breathed and eaten music all my life. I’ve had a life other than the singing stuff.
“I’ve had proper jobs – I hate saying that – but I’ve had other jobs.”
Alfie in fact chanced upon his future career when, aged 11, he heard the opera La Boheme at the family home. Where a lot of children that age would have run a mile, the young Mr Boe was bewitched.
“The music I was hearing was something new. I didn’t approach this thing as ‘oh, it’s opera’, I didn’t even know what opera was. I didn’t know it should be something an 11-year-old shouldn’t be listening to. So I completely took it on board as a novice and tried to enjoy what I was listening to. The music touches you.
“I hate this thing where people have to put music in certain categories. I don’t believe there’s a division in any style of music. It’s just one big world and there’s just two types of music, really – good and bad.”
Alfie laughs before adding: “Anyway, I started singing because there was a girl who went to amateur operatics that I fancied and wanted a date with.”
To the casual observer it may seem the singer has pretty much appeared out of nowhere in the past couple of years. Truth is, the current tour crowns a lengthy journey.
“I’ve been working on getting a record deal and breaking it for 15 years. So it’s not been such an easy ride.
“True, it really happened majorly over the last two or three years. I’ve been put to the mainstream audience a little more and it’s quite nice that things have happened like that.
“But people do think it’s been just a couple of years ploughing the field, but I’ve been singing to record companies for nearly 19 years, so it’s taken a long time to develop the recording career side and make records.”
During that time Alfie has honed his skills and profile performing on West End stages and alongside the likes of Doncaster’s Lesley Garrett, Clint Boon, of Inspiral Carpets, and Little Britain’s Matt Lucas, as well as Robert Plant on the latest record.
Some of those who helped, inspired or have simply figured in Alfie’s career are credited on the sleeves of his two albums.
“Every album is dedicated to somebody that’s been close in my life. I do try and dedicate songs and albums and I’ll be dedicating my book. It’s a nice thing to do.”
And with the so-called crossover classical market big business these days – as Katherine Jenkins and fellow northerner Russell Watson will testify – there’s plenty of fans to read those words.
All three performers will have filled the City Hall by curfew on Wednesday, but Alfie says he brings something different.
“I don’t try to lose myself in a song, I try and keep myself well connected with it and understanding what I’m saying.
“In general I’m very grateful to be doing what I am doing. It’s an amazing opportunity to do something you love for a living.
“Sometimes when I’m on stage in the flow of it all I think ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me – I can’t believe I’m in this position’.”
The current show features tracks from those two albums and a couple of surprises “that might throw a bit of a curve ball at people”.
But with two young kids at home, including baby Alfie, named after his father, just don’t expect the amiable star to hang about too long afterwards.
“I get home as often as I can,” he says to us midway through the 23-date Bring Him Home tour, named after the Les Miserables showstopper, the first song he performed on stage at the age of 14.
“My newborn is only a week old. I’ve had to tear myself away from him to get back on the road which is pretty hard.
“But they’ll come on the road with me eventually, when they’re a little older.”
Fortunately Sheffield is four days from the finish line. But the singer won’t be taking much of a breather with a concert DVD out in March and that book in October.
“I’m playing a lot of music festivals over the summer around the UK.
“Then there’ll be a new album out at end of the year and another tour and then back to the grind, starting all over again next year.
“We take it a step at a time.”
That includes his ambition to play Glastonbury – “Oh man, we’ll see how that works out” – and some of the potential collaborations that have been mooted.
“There’s a lot of people I’d love to sing with. It’s amazing what a performer you become when you work with someone else. It’s really cool.”
For now, if you have a ticket to see Alfie next week, sit back and enjoy an artist who is maybe not as chilled as he looks on stage.
“I try to keep calm so I can deal with it all,” he says of his demeanour.
“You just have to keep yourself as grounded as possible, make sure your feet are firmly on the ground and your head still fits your hat.
“But it’s like a duck on water: you’re gliding across, but you’re paddling like mad underneath.”